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Over the recent years the educational community has slowly been liberated from the practice that early grade students should be exposed to more fiction than nonfiction. Nonfiction reading materials make use of text structures. These require the students to use a distinct set of critical thinking skills for comprehension. This nonfiction reading activity that third grade students are encouraged to do include reading materials (a magazine article and a textbook) for students to learn to comprehend as fast as they would a fiction piece. It is all about tapping into the context of nonfiction reading to make it meaningful and useful to third graders.
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Teaching the parts of a textbook is easy. Every student learns with ease that the book has a table of contents, author page, copyright page, glossary, bibliography, appendix, etc. Students can recite with ease these different textbook parts, including what they are and what they are for. The real problem, though, lies not on whether or not they know these parts but on (1) how to locate these parts and (2) why they need to locate these parts. The concern is more on teaching the students the right places to look for information and making the students appreciate these different parts as navigational tools to help them find their way around and maximize the use of their textbooks. These are the challenges of the reading teacher. I daresay that the solution to these two concerns are (1) facilitating constant but fun practices and (2) bringing the concept of textbook parts from the elevated, far-removed level of abstraction to practical, everyday use which the students will find meaningful and useful.
To bring about constant practices that students don't label as "dreadful drills," make your exercises fun by using games. Games, when facilitated well and guided by the right objectives, are always successful in instilling learning with ease and enthusiasm. You can try treasure hunt games. Students will race in finding the right information in certain parts of the textbook to move on to the next stop in their treasure hunt. For instance, you can ask them to locate the page number of a certain story, definition of a certain word, the number of times a certain word appears in the book, etc, and use these pieces of information to piece together a certain clue for the hunt. Expand your hunt to include the hallways, book libraries, books of teachers (with their knowledge about the hunt and permission to use their books) and even the school principal's selected book. This activity and other activities of the same nature always succeeds in helping students master how to use the different parts of the textbook.
How do we make the students understand that the textbook navigation skills that they are acquiring come to life not only in the classroom but in their everyday activities at home and with friends as well? To do this, seek the cooperation of the parents. Everyday during your 'textbook use lesson week,' give the parents the task of allotting time for their children to use the cookbook (helping locate the recipe name and the definition of foreign-sounding ingredients) or a gadget/appliance handbook (fixing a malfunctioning remote control or air conditioner). Once they understand that their knowledge of textbook navigation comes in handy even when they're at home, their learning of the lesson is enriched and made meaningful, cementing the concept of textbook navigational skills in their schemata.
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Studies show that students impressively grasp and comprehend a fiction text, but they alarmingly lag behind in terms of understanding a nonfiction text. In a research article of Barbara M. Taylor from the University of Minnesota, she discusses:
"Unfortunately, many students in grades 4-8 have difficulties reading and writing expository text (Alverman & Boothby, 1982; Baumann, 1983; Berkowitz & Taylor, 1981; Kapphahn, 1985; National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1980, 1981, 1982; Taylor, 1984a; Taylor, Olson, Prenn, Rybczynski, & Zakaluk, in press)." (119)
Furthermore, she notes:
"Research also suggests that students may have difficulty reading and writing expository text, in part, because of factors related to text structure or the organization of main ideas and details in text. Taylor (1980) found that sixth-grade students who used the structure of expository text to organize their written retellings of the material had better memory for what they had read than students who did not notice text structure when reading." (119)
Naturally, students have a hard time making meaning out of these nonfiction texts because the structures used in these reading materials are foreign to them: problem and solution, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, etc. These ways of presenting information should be made familiar and common to students.
The most essential practice to be implemented here is to provide constant exposure of magazines and newspapers to the students. First and foremost, your students should love reading nonfiction. To do this, take pains to find out your students' interests and bring magazines and newspaper articles about these hobbies. You'd be surprised to observe them pouring over these reading materials, especially because the information presented are about things they love. Do this for a few times during reading circle periods. Afterwards, slowly wean them from magazines they love reading by turning your usual DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) sessions into nonfiction DEAR periods in the library where they can just pick out any nonfiction reading material of their choice. Bring them to the newspapers and magazines section and have them browse through the reading materials in that section. Encourage them to widen their interests to other topics by surveying what other topics are available for them to read. Motivate them by having general information quiz bees about the articles they've read or have yet to read. Award a G.I. Genius every week to appreciate and affirm your most avid nonfiction reader.
Once the enthusiasm for reading nonfiction articles has set in, you may now start to work on teaching them the different text structures all the way to writing their own nonfiction pieces.
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A nonfiction reading activity third grade students will enjoy is one that allows them to have fun while learning. It is therefore important to instill in the students that reading is something fun and a life-long habit to look forward to. Start to exude this fun vibe of reading in your classroom and you will surely have no problem making them read on their own anytime, anywhere.
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Taylor, Barbara. “Improving Middle-Grade Students' Reading and Writing of Expository Text." Journal of Educational Research. 1985. 12 December 2010. <http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=50ABDA0080390D205835C7FD8D274DEC.inst1_3b?docId=76941385>